Friday, September 11, 2020

The Divine Diana Rigg


In 1987 I visited England for the first time. The weeks leading up to the trip were filled with difficult choices on what to do in those ten days, amidst a seemingly endless selection of historical sites and castles and monuments and natural wonders.


But one thing was certain – one of those nights would be spent with Diana Rigg. 



She was performing in a West End production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Back then I was not as conversant in musical theater as I am now, so the show itself held little interest. All I knew is that for a few hours I’d be in the same room as Mrs. Emma Peel. To me that was as important as seeing Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum.


In many ways The Avengers was my introduction to London. Long before I went there I fell in love with the city as it was portrayed in this classic ‘60s series.


Was there really a place this civil and sophisticated, where men dressed as nattily as John Steed, and were so well versed in fine wines and cricket and vintage Jaguars? And were the women really as stunning as sexy as Emma Peel? If so, visiting might not be enough – I may have to move there.

Of course, London wasn’t always like it was shown in The Avengers, then or now. But there are still places in its winding streets and hidden corners where reside little antique shops that could appear in an episode like “The Correct Way to Kill.” I was delighted every time I found one.



One thing is sure: no city ever had a better endorsement for tourism than London had in The Avengers, or two more ideal ambassadors than Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg.


When I think of the show now I don’t remember stories or villains. It’s the moments around the plots that linger most vividly, when Steed and Emma are trading banter and barbs like no other couple since Nick and Nora Charles in the Thin Man films. The chemistry between the two actors has never been surpassed.


Emma Peel: Would you like a drink?

John Steed: Intravenously!


John Steed: I've driven across this road, oh, a hundred times during the war.

Emma Peel: Well, since you know it so well it's remarkable you couldn't stay on it.


Emma Peel: [referring to Steed's watch] That's new.

John Steed: Legacy from my uncle.

Emma Peel: Pity it's dented.

John Steed: Battle of the Somme, 1916.

Emma Peel: German bullet?

John Steed: Canadian mule.


Emma Peel: What have we got, so far?

John Steed: Two black roses, three corpses...

Emma Peel: Four white feathers...

John Steed: And a partridge in a pear tree.


Emma Peel: The invitation came from a mutual friend – Jeremy Wade

John Steed: That’s the fellow that deals in old prints and manuscripts. Is he still after your first edition? 


Rigg enjoyed a long and impressive career that enhanced British institutions from Shakespeare and Charles Dickens to James Bond and Doctor Who. But with The Avengers, she accomplished the rare achievement of adding a character to that iconic roster.


It takes more than beauty to do that – even if we’re talking about beauty so exceptional it can reduce a young man to a catatonic state of staring at a TV screen in abject wonder. Mrs. Peel was not just an exquisite face, long legs, and a leather catsuit. She was a journalist and a scientist, a fighter and a femme fatale. She was a civilian who gladly joined a top British agent on missions that could bring down a nation. She was Steed’s equal in wit and style and derring-do. And what a voice: so deep and resonant yet still beguilingly feminine. 


So while this is a sad time when we mourn the passing of a quintessential English rose, it helps to believe that perhaps now she’s sharing another glass of champagne with her debonair costar. Maybe Mrs. Gale will join them. 




  1. Mr. Hofstede, do you remember Diana Rigg's stint as host of the "Mystery!" series on PBS? May she rest in peace.

  2. Before I knew about her from THE AVENGERS, I knew she had a 1973 NBC sitcom called DIANA, which I don't remember watching. I think there are bits of it on You Tube. Did you ever see or enjoy that show?

    1. I've seen one episode, and it wasn't that good - but I find her endlessly enjoyable to watch so if it came out on DVD I'd still buy it.